Technology

OK here is a myth that I'd like to explode (or at least be provocative about). Technology is NOT inevitable. Say what? We humans think that technology increases steadily. With every space shuttle and iPod, humanity advances by one small step. Sort of like that image of the ape walking more and more upright ... yeah that one. But the steady progress of technology is a myth. Then how does it advance? Punctuated equilibrium? Not really. Humans are adept at finding tricks and shortcuts. We're natural-born cheaters. There I've said it. All of our technologies are exactly that. Tricks. Brute…
Blogging from Bio-Link, part I I am currently in Berkeley attending the 2006 Bio-Link summer fellows' workshop. It's hard to believe that it's been eight years since the first workshop was held. We're still meeting here in the same lovely Clark Kerr Center and I'm still, as every year, awed by the amount of initiative and drive that I see in the group of people that converge on this place from around the country. Who would have thought that biotechnology education could inspire this kind of odd combination of family reunion and revival meeting? Why would anyone hire your graduates? When I…
The question for the week from the Seed overlords is: "Will the 'human' race be around in 100 years?" This is basically a Singularity question, and as such, I think it's kind of silly. But then, I think the whole Singularity thing is sort of silly-- as a literary device, it makes for some good SF, but as serious prognostication about the future, I think it's crap. Razib lays out the basic logic of the options: 1) Nerd Jesus arrives and spirits us all away in a cloud of nanobots, 2) We're all gonna diiiieeee!!!, and 3) We muddle along more or less as always. PZ is more pessimistic, and also…
Our Seed Overlords have submitted yet another question to their blogulous oracle, i.e., us: Will the "human" race be around in 100 years? I don't think it's a particularly good question, I'm afraid. The answer is simply "yes". If the question were about prairie chickens, cheetahs, or chimpanzees, it would be a more challenging question, but with a population of 6.5 billion of us, I don't think there's much doubt. We'll be here. The only question is what state we and the world will be in. I'll speculate a bit on possible outcomes. We keep going as we have been. The population is double what it…
Our Seed Overlords have asked a question (our answering is entirely voluntary, if you were wondering, and we're only answering because it is an interesting question): "if you could cause one invention from the last hundred years never to have been made at all, which would it be, and why?" Several of my colleagues here have coughed up answers—Adventures in Ethics and Science (with a particularly appropriate entry), Afarensis, Evolgen, Living the Scientific Life, and Stranger Fruit—but I'm going to be a little bit contrary and question the question. My answer is "none." I don't see most of…
(I'm still on my little trip - but I'll be back soon. Here's what I wrote when I came back from Spain last summer) Is this entry about the eventual fall of the west? Perhaps not directly. Although wedding plans loom large, the people and places from our last trip to Iberia keep coming back to haunt me. No this entry is about the demise of the Andalus Caliphate. From an article in today's NY times about Medina Azahara, the summer home of the Andalus Caliphate, whose capital was in the nearby Cordoba: Medina Azahara, also known as Madinat al-Zahra, was an Islamic metropolis built in the 10th…
Over at Dembski's Home for Wayward Sycophants, crandaddy has made a rather curious claim that provides an excellent pretext for analyzing further the links between ID and creationism while simultaneously providing a case study in the ability of ID advocates to ignore evidence that they wish didn't exist. He is responding to the praise of Barbara Forrest from Pat Hayes and myself, and this is his argument: Now, here's what I don't understand. Forrest has a PhD in philosophy from Tulane, yet the best ID=Creationism arguments she seems to be able to put forth are either red herrings (The…
Today at Inside Higher Education, an article identifies "The Real Science Ethics Issues". Which means, I suppose, you don't have to keep taking my word about what's an issue and what is not. The focus of the article is not on the flashier instances of fraud, but on more mundane stuff that may rot the scientific enterprise from the inside. From the article: Nicholas H. Steneck, a University of Michigan history professor and a consultant at the Office of Research Integrity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that most research fabrication is "not very subtle or clever."…
By now you have seen the excellent Crooked Timber seminar on Chris Mooney's book, The Republican War on Science. In addition to the CT regulars, sociologist of science (and Kitzmiller vs. Dover expert witness) Steve Fuller contributed an essay to the seminar. While some in these parts have dismissed it rather quickly, I want to give it a slightly less hasty response. At the outset, let me say that I'm not going to respond to all of Fuller's claims in the essay. For one thing, it's long; the printout (yes, I'm a Luddite), not counting comments, is seven pages of very small type. For…
In Mind Wide Open, Steven Johnson writes about advances in neurofeedback technology. "Your Attention Please" describes Johnson's attempts to peddle a virtual bicycle using the power of his brain. He's at a training session organized by a firm called The Attention Builders. As the name suggests, the company is in the business of building attention. The firm's software was designed to familiarize children suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD) with the experience of concentrating. To do this, they employ some new-fangled technology. A helmet that wouldn't look out of place in TRON is…
Powerline. Round about these parts, that name is pretty much a synonym for stupid, and I see they're doing a good job of maintaining their reputation. You'd think they'd learn that whenever they step into the domain of science, their level of ignorance is even more palpably apparent than usual. Their latest embarrassment was prompted by an egregiously idiotic article from Michael Fumento, which catalogs an error-filled collection of so-called biases in science. The assrocket's conclusion? The moral of the story is that the leading scientific journals have been taken over by liberals who value…
I'm swamped today, so alas, nothing new from me. However, since many of you are newer readers, I thought I'd totally cheat and dig up one from the archives on antimicrobial resistance. This one I cross-posted to Panda's Thumb where it received some decent discussion; it was also mentioned in a write-up of Panda's Thumb featured in Science magazine. I also find it very fitting since we have a number of commenters discussing a number of things microbes "can't" do, as the post tells the story of one scientist who made a similar comment, was taken up on that, and proven wrong. Resistance…
Welcome to the introductory edition of Animalcules! Our first, and most pressing, issue is the name. As was pointed out in the comments here, there's already a monthly column in Microbe (formerly ASM News) called "Animalcules." But I still like the name, so I was thinking of incorporating something else with it. "Carnival of the Animalcules?" Eh, lots of those "carnival of"s out there. Try to be a bit more pretentious--"Festivus microbius" or something where it sounds like I almost know some Latin? Nah--too many people around these parts who actually *do* know Latin. So, after much…
Via Tara, I see that a major media organ has finally contrasted Bush's "I Heart Science" message in his SOTU speech with the reality of how science has been treated in this administration: Starting when he was a presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush has often assured voters that his policymaking would be guided by "sound science." Last week, in his State of the Union address, the President pointed to scientific research as the way to "lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come." Yet growing numbers of researchers, both in and out of government, say their…
In my piece with DarkSyde yesterday, I mentioned a bioterrorist attack with Salmonella that took place in Oregon in the 1980s. This is an organism that you've all certainly encountered (though hopefully didn't get sickened by), and it's certainly not one that's commonly thought of as a potential agent of bioterrorism. Well, the National Academy of Science says our current list of potential agents is seriously flawed. US 'unaware' of emerging bioterror threats The life sciences are developing so quickly that a watch list of dangerous pathogens and toxins is useless in fighting the threat of…
Via Kieran Healy an example of the happy coexistence of science and religion: The Vatican Observatory. I particularly like Kieran's comment regarding the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope: I think that's just fantastic--like something out of Phillip Pullman. Is it too much to hope for the Vatican Superconducting Supercollider, which would once and for all resolve the question of how many angels would be killed if a stream of particles were smashed into the head of a pin? I was already aware of the Vatican Observatory, thanks to Brother Guy Consolmagno, planetary scientist, Jesuit, and SF…
A while back I blogged about an idea floated by Morton Kondracke: That George W. Bush should try to become the "science" president by emphasizing, in his State of the Union speech, themes of global scientific competitiveness and the need to ensure that the good old USA is leading the pack. Well, it now seems official: According to the Boston Globe, in his speech tonight Bush plans to highlight Norman Augustine, a former Lockheed Martin CEO who "last year led a congressionally mandated National Academies team that issued a report warning that America is 'on a losing path' in the global…
Today in the Chronicle of Higher Education there's a piece on Gerald Schatten's role in the Korean stem cell mess. It's an interesting piece, written without Dr. Schatten's participation -- he's keeping quiet while the University of Pittsburgh conducts its investigation of him. (Worth noting, from the article: "Pittsburgh began investigating Mr. Schatten, at his own request, with a six-person panel that first met on December 14.") Given Schatten's non-participation in the article, the portrait of him that emerges turns on the impressions of his friends and acquaintances, past collaborators…
Resistance to antibiotics has been a concern of scientists almost since their widespread use began. In a 1945 interview with the New York Times, Alexander Fleming himself warned that the misuse of penicillin could lead to selection of resistant forms of bacteria, and indeed, he’d already derived such strains in the lab by varying doses of penicillin the bacteria were subjected to. A short 5 years later, several hospitals had reported that a majority of their Staph isolates were, as predicted, resistant to penicillin. This decline in effectiveness has led to a search for new sources and kinds…
After a day-long road trip from Ohio, I finally had the chance to read the news that President Bush thinks that schools should discuss Intelligent Design alongside evolution, so that students can "understand what the debate is about." As Bush himself said, this is pretty much the same attitude he had towards creationism when he was a governor. His statements back in Texas didn't actually lead to any changes in Texas schools, and I doubt that these new remarks will have much direct effect, either. But, like Chris Mooney, I'm a journalist, and like him I would have loved to have been in the…